When Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), the equable, wealthy owner of The Grand Budapest Hotel, meets a young writer (Jude Law), he recounts the story of how he came to be the possessor of such an esteemed and established building. We then proceed into a flashback, where the young Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) is first employed at the hotel, as a lobby boy alongside the renowned, fastidious concierge Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), a popular man who enjoys the company of older women. One of these, Madame D. (Tilda Swinton), leaves Gustave a valuable piece of art in her will when she passes away, causing uproar amongst her children. Before waiting for any clearance, Gustave and Zero steal the painting and go on the run, forming the unlikeliest of bonds in the process.
The setting to the piece is perfect, as there is already something so kitsch (at least in hindsight) about certain parts of 1930s Europe, and as this is set in a fictional country – The Republic of Zubrowka, Anderson has used classic Bavarian settings to create a film that completely encapsulates his style and cinematic language. He has implemented miniature, toy models to create this fantastical world, adding to the surrealism of it all. He elaborates on this notion in the way he shoots the film too, as the camera moves robotically from side to side and up and down floors of the hotel, as though we’re peering in to the cross section of a dolls’ house. The model village is similar to a theme park, and you almost get the sense that everything comes alive when the gates are closed at night. The miniature model approach creates an intimacy of sorts too which counteracts the grandiose elements of the narrative.
To view this world from the perspective of Zero is essential, as he’s extremely passive, acting as a cipher with everything revolving around him. He’s the accessible entry point the viewer requires, as when we delve into Anderson’s surrealistic universe, it helps to do so from an outsider’s perspective, a ‘normal’ person who merely studies the unconventional idiosyncrasies of the inhabitants, as he remains completely nonplussed whilst encountering larger than life personalities. Had this been told through the eyes of Gustave, it simply wouldn’t work. Fiennes is terrific though, blessed with a fantastically nuanced creation, bringing great empathy to a relatively iniquitous man. All of the characters created are fascinating, and they are brought to life by an array of stars. In many instances this would be overbearing, but these supporting, quirky cameos each have a distinct identity of their own, and the fact that they’re played by the likes of Bill Murray, Edward Norton and Harvey Keitel, for example, isn’t anywhere near as distracting as first feared.
That said, there are a few inconsistencies to this tale, for example, the young Revolori bears little to no resemblance at all to Abraham, despite playing him in flashbacks, and it would be something of a surprise to learn that the expression “candy ass” existed in 1930s Europe – but ultimately it just doesn’t matter. Anderson has created a whimsical, dreamlike world where anything goes, allowing him the licence to do whatever he sees fit. So by all means indulge in GBH – the sort that won’t land you in jail.